Information on Public Education: Ask the Students

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Dear Editor: I was not surprised to find that my article in the March/ April issue of Western Friend, “My Quest to Change the Education System,” was controversial to some Friends. Regarding Gary Miller’s letter to the editor, I would like to write my own response in my defense.

In Miller’s response he says, “there is no such thing as a ‘normal school day’ in a public school,” and while this might be true to an extent, in my experience and in many others’ experiences, there tends to be common threads from school to school. While this may not be necessarily be on a day-to-day basis, that does not mean that many of the things I mentioned do not exist in public education. Miller also points out that the survey I created has very limited data, I will not deny that, but I also will say that the survey does bring truth. Since my article has been published, I have sorted through my data and have reduced it down to 166 responses from students only at public schools and excluding the private school students. The data in the article does come from a mixture of students and that does cause the data to be clouded, but a lot of this process for me is about learning how to find a way to make it known that the current state of public education does not have to be the norm and that the system should be changed.

Miller then points out that I did not mention if my statements are on a national level or merely about my own experience. I feel that if I have had these experiences in this system then who’s to say that I am the only one, and just from talking to people in traditional public schools, I have found that I am not the only one, and that is the reason I feel obligated to change the system. He also says, “I felt particularly offended by her statement about ‘students unconsciously taught to hate certain subjects,’” and goes on to say that this is a “ridiculous statement with no substantiation.” But let’s imagine for a minute: let’s say you grew up loving math, and spent all of your free time finding and solving new problems, but one day you go to school and all they give you is a textbook to learn from along with an assignment that you are forced to complete. After you do this for a while, you don’t love math anymore, and most of the people around you don’t either. Now I’m not saying that this happens in every school with every student, but it does happen surprisingly often. I didn’t mean to offend anyone with this statement. I meant only to show what I have observed happening for years.

As for the percentages, the ones that I used in my article were all the highest percentages for those questions and each question used a range of responses. Again, I’m still learning the best ways to present data. Miller also points out that in the school district where he worked, “the vast majority of parents, when surveyed, report that the schools their own children attend are wonderful” and that “90% of parents reported this view.” I am going to use a brief anecdote in response to this: I have a friend who attends a traditional public school that she absolutely despises, but her parents are fine with it and want for her to just go through it and graduate. She has tried many times to convince them that the school is doing her more harm than good, but they refuse to let her switch to a school where she would be happier and where, overall, her well-being would skyrocket. If you were to ask her parents how her school is, they would probably be part of the 90% that Miller mentioned. Because parents’ and students’ views vary, we need to ask ourselves who should be asked these questions. Only one group is forced to attend school everyday, but it doesn’t seem to me in Miller’s statement that their views are as valued, which is part of the reason why I (a high school student) wrote this article in the first place. In Miller’s statement, it seems as though students’ views don’t matter, and that’s concerning to see, since he is also “a Quaker who has served on local school boards for over twenty-five years.”

I would also like to clarify that none of my criticism is aimed towards teachers, only toward the system that they are working in. I hold much respect for teachers and feel that they deserve more than they receive. I also talked to many teachers in the process of writing the article, and for the most part, they agreed with my points. I wish that Miller had met with some teachers and students before writing his letter. I do not feel as if I have done any “disservice” by presenting the facts I had available to me because I made clear the number of students whom I had results from. I apologize if I offended any other Friends, but I do feel like this is an important topic to me. This is also one big learning experience for me.

– Elise Enochs, Mountain View Meeting (IMYM)